Heidegger Notes

Being and Time 1-4, 31-34.

The place of language in understanding

Heidegger -- Being and Time

Note: much of this discussion is from Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-world.

Heidegger's extension of the question of interpretation drove him to claim that the history of philosophy since Plato has been the history of the forgetting of the question of Being. What does he mean?

Essentially, Heidegger sees the history of philosophy as the history of the attempt to explicate the human understanding of meaning. The problem has been that everyone has assumed that the structure itself, the presuppositions and the categories, could be exhaustively delineated. It has been our fascination withtheory. Theory was supposed to give us the foundations of everything. The problem has been in giving a theory of everything. The theories that we know are ones that are partial -- they assume something outside of them. They also assume that we as observers are outside the system. So, if we decide to outline a computer system, we can do it exhaustively (never mind Godel, for the moment), because we have a foundation from which to start. We can outline the axioms, or operating system, or whatever, because we are not part of it, and because this system only has meaning as it points outside of itself.

The problem comes when we try to account for meaning universally. We are part of the universal "system", of course, and therefore cannot objectively stand in judgment of it. Heidegger inherits the hermeneutical circle from Schleiermacher and Dilthey. Our sense of meaning, as humans, comes not from explicating a foundation, but from jumping into a circle.

For Heidegger, what this means is that the tradition of trying to ground our existence in the Forms, in God, in the cogito, in the external world, in spirit -- all this fails, because it assumes that we can take a bird's eye, objective view of our human experience. In fact, we cannot. There are no facts, no primatives, no axioms, no presuppositions, which are themselves uninterpreted. Therefore, all attempts at a universal theory are bound to fail. There will always be something a theory like this cannot take into account.

Think of life as a text. In a text, if you suppose that you can get the meaning simply by piecing together the words, you are mistaken. You need a sense of the whole, of the context in which the text arises, in order to make sense of the text at all. On the other hand, you cannot simply assert that you know what the whole is about, without ever having dealt with the parts. In the same way, for human life -- any attempt to have a comprehensive theory will have "left out the parts"; any attempt to generate an empirical view of the world will have "left out the whole".

Heidegger's project brings several strains together:

1. He clearly follows his mentor, Edmund Husserl, in defending a phenomenological method. Husserl recognized that there was a crisis in the human sciences, because they had failed to take into account intentionality. All our mental states are "consciousness-of". There is no pure consciousness. As such, we are imbedded in a life-world. His account of humans is that of a consciousness that has self-contained meanings. This mental content gives intelligibility to everything we encounter.

Heidegger recognizes this, but argues that there is a more basic form of intentionality than that of a self-sufficient individual subject directed at the world by means of its mental contents. Our intelligibility is based on the "mindless" everyday world we live in.

2. He follows Nietzsche, in regarding us as self-interpreting beings without a foundation. However, he points out that Nietzsche is the "last great metaphysician", because of his grounding of interpretation in the psychology of the individual.

3. He follows Marx, in that he recognizes that the individual is "created" by social forces. However, while Marx would have talked about the creation of human nature, Heidegger would talk about human understanding. For Marx, we are at best coming to freedom, but our present nature is the result of forces beyond our control. For Heidegger, we are free. Dasein is shaped by its choice of projects. Note that Dasein is not just an individual consciousness, but there is a larger sense to it as well.

4. He follows Dilthey, in that he points out that we experience things as meaningful. We do not construct meaning out of meaningless components.

So, Heidegger is reacting against and rejecting certain presuppositions:

1. Explicitness. Nearly everyone in the history of philosophy has assumed that we know and act by applying principles, beliefs, and desires. So, our task is to get clear about these various presuppositions, so we can get control of our lives. Heidegger thinks this is impossible, and we would not want to, anyway.

For Heidegger, there is an inexplicable "background" that enables us to make sense of things. This background is one we simply find ourselves in, and it cannot be exhaustively described or outlined, at least not in a context-free manner. So, our ability to have meaning comes from the practical action of living in this background. Theory is not rejected, but it is just not seen as central.

2. Mental Representation. Descartes thinks that in order for us to perceive, act, and function at all, there must be some content to our minds. We must represent the world to ourselves. Heidegger questions this. Specifically, he questions the notion that experience always and most basically is a relation between a self-contained subject with mental content (the inner) and an independant object (the outer). This may sometimes be true, but not always, and this picture is derivative. Our basic way of "being-in-the-world" cannot be broken into subject and object. The computer model of the mind doesn't work.

3. Theoretical Holism. The view that there is an underlying, implicit theory that makes sense of whatever we do. Onto-theology. Heidegger rejects the universal (even for any individual) tacit belief system. He returns to phenomenology here. We should go back to the phenomena themselves, and recognize that there is no theory. Furthermore, the traditional oppositions like immanent/transcendent, representation/represented, subject/object, conscious/unconscious -- all these are a result of our theory, and are not part of our basic experience of the world.

4. Detachment and Objectivity. Traditionally, we think of ourselves as detached from the world. In fact, the only way we discover reality is by detached contemplation.

5. Methodological Individualism. Dilthey argues that the meaning and organization in a culture must be taken as the basic given in the social sciences and philosophy, and cannot be traced back to the action of individual subjects. Heidegger agrees.

So, on to the introduction.

Heidegger situates Being. It is not the most universal concept -- it is at best used analogously of things like the being of objects and of numbers. Strictly speaking, it does not "apply to" everything in the same way. If it was the most universal of concepts, it would also be the clearest, which it is not.

It is not an abstract, therefore indefinable concept -- it is not a concept at all. It is not a concept that points at an entity.

It is not self evident, which one might expect due to the construction of language into subject and copula (existence predicate). Being has to be uncovered. This uncovering is "Truth", and there is a hint that Being does not want to be uncovered.

So, a different kind of understanding is already necessary, because "Being" cannot be studied like anything else. It is not an entity, it cannot be defined, yet without understanding it, we cannot do anything else. We must have hermeneutic understanding.

So, what is being (p. 25-26)? Being "determines beings as beings, that on the basis of which beings are already understood." But this is not a grounding of beings in some self-sufficient cause, once called God, now called Being. Beings gain their intelligibility in relation to Being, but are not caused by Being.

The name for Being is "Dasein" (being here/there). In German this can refer to everyday human existence, and thus refer to "human being". But Dasein is not a conscious subject. Heidegger is not an existentialist. He is not talking about an individual subject, at least not only this. Dasein is more basic than mental states or intentionality. The best way to think about it is as the "human way of being". This sometimes takes in individual existence, and sometimes existence of humans in general.

This way of being is known through the hermeneutical circle (p. 27). Dasein's way of being Heidegger calls Existence [Existenz]. Humans are a special kind of being, in that their way of being embodies an understanding of what it is to be. We question what it is to be. "These beings, in their being, comport themselves towards their being." Daseintakes a stand on its being. Dasein is self-interpreting -- something not true of stones, or even God.

Culture, as well as human beings, exists in this sense, because their practices contain an interpretation of what it means to be a culture.

So, human being-in-the-world assumes a kind of preontological structure, or understanding. For instance, there are contrasting child-rearing practices in Japan and in the US. In Japan, a mother spends a lot of time soothing and rocking the baby. The US mother tends to stimulate the baby, more talking. It's as if the Japanese mother wants a quiet, contented baby, and the American mother wants an active vocal baby. By about 3-4 months, these babies have learned to be Japanese or American.

Note that there is nothing conceptual here at all. We learn to be a person from being with other persons. There are lots of other examples -- like the way we learn practices of distance-standing, in various situations, or voice volume. There are no rules or concepts or beliefs involved. These practices are not taught by anyone. We just pick them up from living in human community.

Notice also that there is a mix of essentialism and existentialism here. Strictly speaking, we do not have an essence. We simply exist in the world. However, this is not quite like Sartre. We do not simply radically create. If we have an essence at all, it is that we are self-interpreting.

What is investigated

Kinds of investigationOntic (beings)Ontological (Being)
A "who": A being with the character of DaseinFactical , possible ways to be, and the structures thereof (e.g. being a student)Existentials and structures thereof. Being with; facticity.
A "what": A being of any other kindFactual properties (being red, etc.) and the structures thereof (scientific laws)Categories and structures thereof (quality, quantity)

Existential understanding is a worked-out understanding of the ontological structures of existence -- what it is to be Dasein.

Existentiell understanding is an individual's understanding of his or her own way to be, that is, of what he or she is. It involves understanding of entities (beings).

Existentiell understanding is at best partial. You can "light up" portions of it, but you cannot fully explicate it. An explication of our existence can never be complete because it is pervasive. We are always in it. Further, it would require some beliefs to become clear about, and there are none. There are just practices and skills.

So, to exist means to take a stand on what is essential about one's existence, and to be defined by that stand. Dasein interprets itself to be. There is no specific human nature. Our "essence", if there is such a thing, is to be self-interpreting. And, in any particular age, we have understandings of ourselves, metaphors that structure what we are. If in the Middle Ages we conceived of ourselves as sinners and saints, now we might use a metaphor like sick and healthy. One metaphor may not make much sense in an age which uses another metaphor.

There is a problem: Dasein is also essentially mis-interpreting. We understand ourselves as objects with a nature -- technically, not true. We must solidify ourselves in this way, and yet to do so is always to mis-interpret. Heidegger talks about "fleeing" and "falling" as producing an essential structure of human nature.

There is a sense in which a person "has" Dasein. This does not mean that the person has a private world of experience that is called "Dasein". This "ownness" is not like having a headache, or being hungry. Heidegger has to wed the individual and the social. To have Dasein is to make a public stand on Dasein by way of its comportment.

Dasein has three modes of existing 33 [12]. "Dasein has either chosen these possibilities itself, or got itself into them, or grown up in them already." In other words, Dasein can own up, disown, or fail to take a stand on its unsettled way of being.

For instance, (1) the baby has not taken a stand. It just goes along with the public way of not owning up to itself.

(2) Or, someone may actively take a stand. It can "get itself into" the identities offered by society. Instead of passively accepting a role, it can actively identify with a role, which allows it to cover up its true self-interpreting identity. So, you have "the Marxist", or "the Christian".

(3) Finally, Dasein can own up. It can achieve individuality by realizing that it can never find meaning by identifying with a role. Dasein then "chooses" its social possibilities in such a way as to manifest in the style of its activity its understanding of the groundlessness of its existence. This is what Heidegger calls "being authentic".

Phenomenology & Hermeneutics

How is the investigation of Dasein to proceed? It must proceed as phenomenology. But this is far from Husserl's sense of phenomenology. For Husserl, recall, the point is to make clear the essences. Husserl wanted to spell out the intentional contents of our belief systems and arrive at indubitable evidence. For Heidegger, it is a way of letting something be shared that can never be totally articulated, and for which there is no indubitable evidence.

So, phenomenology must be the investigation of the phenomenon. What is the phenomenon? Ordinarily, it is "that which shows itself". However, that which shows itself can only do so based on certain presuppositions. So, Heidegger does not intend to just investigate the Kantian phenomenal world. He wants to bring to light that which is hidden, and study that. A perfect example of this is that which makes a being a being -- the being of beings.

Husserl would want to say that we can only study that which can be made fully evident. However, Heidegger does not work with evidence. Husserl wanted a method that freed us from prejudice; Heidegger has no illusions that this could ever be done. Furthermore, full clarity is not possible, since the object of study is so pervasive and since it is primarily a body of practices and skills rather than beliefs.

Therefore, phenomenology properly understood turns out to be hermeneutic. It cannot be a presuppositionless science, nor would it want to be.

So, we must understand hermeneutics, from Heidegger's point of view. We are not investigating consciousness, but Dasein. We cannot look for self-evident meanings; understanding is not a mental grasping. Furthermore, our understanding of being is covered up.

There are two senses to this covered-ness. There is that which is yet undiscovered -- neither known nor unknown. And, there is the "buried over" -- the phenomenon has at some point been discovered, but then over time has become re-covered. This is called a disguise.

Being and Time is roughly divided along the lines of describing these two types of uncovering. Division I deals with laying bare the obvious but unnoticed; Division II deals with breaking through the disguised. The world is so obvious as to be unnoticed; however, Dasein's way of being is so unsettled that it constantly covers up the world.

This will be close to Ricoeur's distinction between the hermeneutics of belief and the hermeneutics of suspicion. The first one has been the locus of investigation in many different areas: Harold Garfinkel in sociology, Charles Taylor in political theory, Clifford Geertz in anthropology, Thomas Kuhn in science. This type of hermeneutic is not the attempt to make the foreign intelligible, as much as it is the attempt to make the everyday explicit. Indeed, the first presupposes the second.

Hermeneutics, then, is broadened from the 19th century ways, in that it is now the attempt to define the nature of interpretation. Heidegger wants to show that humans are just a set of meaningful social practices, that form the basis for all our other types of interpretation. It is the interpretation of humans as self-interpreting beings. And, this is existential in Heidegger's sense, because it means describing everyday life as a general, cross-cultural, transcendental way of being, rather than describing what it is to be a human in specific cultures or historical periods.

As mentioned, this type of understanding is "covered over". It is distorted. So, part of our understanding involves the way of uncovering what we ourselves have covered. The problem is that if we hide our way of being from ourselves, we cannot read Dasein itself from our practices. Heidegger can only begin in the middle of Dasein's misunderstanding and describe those things that are the least distorted.

This highlights Heidegger's version of the hermeneutical circle: We necessarily must begin with practices, but these practices may be tainted by mis-understanding. Thus, we need to have a sense of the misunderstanding (whole) to address the practices (parts), but we can only get the understanding of the misunderstanding through addressing the parts.

If this process can be set in motion, we have more than a perspective on the world given here. This is truth. However, this truth is not exhausted by our attempts at conscious understanding.

Further, we humans are interpretation "all the way down". That means that our practices cannot be grounded in human nature, God's will, or natural law. It also means that we humans are always "unsettled". We are never at home in the world. And, the problem of uncovering truth is mitigated somewhat by "conscience", which is our tendency to unmask our own deceptions.

Now, the point to all this is that if we can work out Dasein's way of being in the world, we have the starting point for understanding other things too. The later Heidegger worked out art's way of being in the world. He thinks through the way of being of technology. He never really does justice to all the horizons of being, but he starts.


The distinction between occurent objects and Dasein comes in their characteristics. The characteristics of occurent objects are called "categories", and for Dasein, they are called "existentials". Examples:

inIn-clusion, being in. She is in the house. She is in the working class (socio-economic positionIn-volvement, being-in. He is in love. She is in a good mood. He is in the working class (and aware of it - involved)
atHe is at work (place)She is at (her) work. (occupied)
byHe stood by (beside)She stood by (was faithful to).
toShe turned to (face) X.He turned (for help) to X.

Physical objects might physically touch each other (for Heidegger, a metaphorical use of "touch"), but cannot matter to each other (the literal sense). Dasein comports itself to others. Things matter to us. Dasein can fall into object status by treating itself like an object, and by being taken up by objects (facticity). However, Dasein dwells in the world. It is at home in the world, and yet not.

Now, this doesn't fit well with the tradition of philosophy that says that, to know anything, we must become detached from it. We must be disinterested. How can Dasein, which dwells in the world, become detached from the world? It cannot. In fact, this detachment is a derivative way of encountering the world. Disinterested knowledge can only happen based on practical knowledge.

The tradition of knowledge is synthetic -- we perceive perspectives, and put them together into a whole. This is certainly the case for Descartes and Husserl. Heidegger uses examples of doorknobs and hammers -- things that are part of the life-world. We manipulate tools that have meaning in a world that is organized according to purposes. So, theory is not prior to practice.

However, he doesn't just invert the two. It is not that practice is primary. He actually wants to show that neither practical activity nor theoretical knowing are the relationship between a self-sufficient mind and an independent world. Heidegger wants to get out of the tradition that says that actions are based on beliefs, that mental states cause bodily movements. He wants to get beyond subject/object in all areas, including practice. In short, he wants to get beyond intentionality. Traditional epistemic distinctions of mind and things-acted-upon-by-mind are deficient, whether we are talking about observation or action itself.

Intentionality is important in analytic philosophy. Searle, for instance, works out a theory of intentionality in which there are two types of intentions that cause actions: prior intentions and intentions in action. Some actions necessarily contain intentions in action, but not prior intentions (like spontaneous actions). An action is a bodily movement caused by my intention to perform it.

So, there is a distinction between the mind and the world. Notice that there is a mental cause for physical action. Heidegger would likely say that this recognition of a cause is just a rationalization after the fact. The point is that our life in the world can be understood without reference to deliberate, self-referential consciousness.

Encountering the World

We encounter the world as "equipment". The world is just there for us. <Think of Dilthey on this> We do not encounter "mere things", but we use things to get something done. We define equipment in terms of what we use it for. Take a chair, for example. What is it to be a chair?:

1. We might know some facts about it, like its shape, material, etc. However, chairs come in all sorts of shapes and materials.

2. We might have an image of a prototypical chair, and compare other objects to this prototype. But would someone from another culture, who had this image and could pick out things that compare to it, really know what a chair was?

3. We could define it abstractly or functionally -- "A chair is a portable seat for one." But this is difficult to do.

The problem is that we recognize chairs by how they fit into the whole, how they fit with tables, people, floors, etc.

Now, when we encounter a chair, there are several features of it that are part of that encounter:

1. We manipulate the chair. Our most basic way of understanding a chair is to use it. We might know what a thing is without using it, but this is a secondary mode of understanding.

2. The chair is transparent. When using equipment, it has a tendency to disappear. We are not aware of its characteristics at all. A blind person could describe a cane, but when it comes to using it, he loses the awareness of the cane, and is only aware of the curb. It is an extension of the person. Equipment in use is equipment in itself.

3. Dasein is also transparent. When a person is skilled, they no longer think about the piano keys, the guitar strings, the basketball. In the midst of an activity, the equipment disappears, but so does the person. We do not decide to do something, and then do it. We just do it. Dasein becomes absorbed in the world.

This could just look like the robot performing a function in the world. However, there are a number of ways in which Dasein is different from the robot:

1. Circumspection is a mode of awareness. It is not a matter of an inner, mental, first person experience of the world. However, it is experience. It opens up the world.

2. Comportment is adaptable and copes with the situation in a variety of ways. Carpenters do not hammer like robots. Even in a reflex activity, there is adjustment based on past experience.

3. Comportment reveals entities under aspects. I can go about my business to use my desk to type on, to read at, to keep things on. I creatively use the desk.

4. If something goes wrong, people and higher animals are startled. This is because our action is directed into the future. Robots are never startled. Dasein is always ahead of itself.

5. If the going gets tough, we must pay attention and so switch to deliberate subject/object intentionality. We can decide to use intentionality to direct actions.

The Nature of the World

All the ways that Dasein has of being, presuppose a world. Heidegger has several senses of "world" (64-65):

A. Inclusion

1. The Ontical-Categorical Sense: The physical universe as the set of all physical objects, or a universe of discourse, like the world of mathematics.

2. The Ontological-Categorial Sense: That which defines the physical world (or abstract world). What all physical or abstract objects have in common. This could be thought of as the essence.

B. Involvement

3. The Ontical-Existentiell Sense: The world in which Dasein lives. Reflected in locutions like "the child's world", "the world of fashion", "the business world". These worlds are all public, and are not derived from a private personal world. Our understanding of this world is preontological.

4. The Ontological-Existential Sense: The worldliness of the world. When we try to imagine other worlds, in science fiction, they are usually just our world changed in certain details.

It is this second category of worlds, that of involvement, that Heidegger is concerned with. How do we make sense out of an activity in a world? Only in the context of other equipment in the world. For instance, I write on a chalkboard in (practical context) a classroom, with (item of equipment) a piece of chalk, in order to (goal) draw a chart, as a step toward (larger goal) explaining Heidegger, for the sake of (final point) being a good teacher.

Now, the goal is not an intension of the mind. Dasein's action can be purposive, without the actor having in mind a purpose. In a skilled, unthinking, or spontaneous activity, you react to the world in a purposive manner, and you might even be surprised when the goal is accomplished. You just react to the world. This is not only true for action, but also for thought itself. A chess grandmaster can react "unthinkingly" to a situation, while his analytic mind can be off doing something else. The chess player has incorporated a tradition of playing.

But all this is not just our version of instinct. Instinct binds the organism to react in one way to a situation. Dasein's possibilities are open.

Dasein and the world are interdependent. Things are significant for Dasein if there is the backdrop of a world. Now, Heidegger thinks that this world is revealed in two ways:

1. Disturbance: The world itself is hidden under the equipment. We discover the world when there is a piece of equipment missing. If chairs are missing from a classroom, we are driven to reflect on the "academic world".

2. Signs: Some entities show their practical context. A signal level on a car, for instance. We act toward it unawares, but its significance is in its interrelation with other things in practical activity.

Now, our existence in the world could be called "accommodation", using as a metaphor the way our eyes constantly adjust to light. Dasein constantly adjusts to the world. Heidegger calls it "being-in-the-world".

Science: Scientific reductionism is ontologically less basic than this phenomenology of Dasein. Natural science can tell us how things work, but not what they are. It accounts for causal connections, but does not describe the way of being of the piece of equipment. Worldliness cannot be understood in terms of nature, and nature can be made intelligible only on the basis of worldliness.

3 Aspects of Dasein's Being-In-The-World

1. Affectedness (Befindlichkeit). "State-of-mind". Dasein just finds itself and things in the world. Being is found in a situation in which things and options already matter.

Dasein is affected by "moods" (Stimmung). This is broader than the way we usually use the term. Moods manifest the tone of "being-there". Mood can refer to the sensibility of an age (like romantic), the culture of a company (like, aggressive), the temper of the times (revolutionary), the mood in a current situation (light, angry, whatever), and the mood of an individual. These are specific ways of finding that things matter.

a. Moods tend to be public, not subjective. We say that we are in a mood. Moods can be social -- privately felt, but typical to a culture (romantic love in the west, shame over loss of face in Japan).

However, moods are also not objective, third-person behaviour. They cannot be reduced to physical movements.

b. Moods reveal thrownness. Moods are so pervasive that they are often transparent. And, mood reveals Dasein best when we are not reflecting about it. We cannot get behind our moods. We cannot get out of them. We are thrown into them.

c. Mood as originary transcendence. Moods provide the backdrop against which specific events can affect us. Moods are like the weather. On a sunny day, everything is bright. When I am annoyed, everything is just more fuel for the annoyance.

Two basic moods are fear and anxiety. These are contrasted by Heidegger. Fear, following Kierkegaard, is the mood in which we become paralyzed. It makes the world intrude upon us. Anxiety, however, reveals Dasein as simple and whole. In the case of fear, the world becomes like a tool for Dasein. In anxiety, inauthentic Dasein experiences the world as a tool that has failed to do its job.

So, in anxiety Dasein discovers that it has no meaning or content of its own. The person is unable to act, for action has no meaning.

2. Understanding. Primordial understanding is know-how. Understanding is not knowledge of what a hammer does, but is knowing how to hammer. Just as affectedness means that what I am doing matters, understanding means that I know how to go about what I am doing. I am able to do what is appropriate in each situation. This reveals some actions as making sense, and some as not making sense. There are three basic levels of understanding:

a. Direct Coping: We cope with a specific situation, which means that we bring possibilities into reality. This means that we are projecting upon our possibilities. What I am currently doing makes sense in terms of my self-interpretation. I am defined by my possibilities, not by what I am currently doing or by my past. This means that Dasein is never characterized by its factual features; yet, Dasein is never more than it factically is, because that facticality is its stand on itself.

b. Room-for-Manoeuvre: This refers to the range of possibilities open in the current world. It is the background against which Dasein can directly cope.

There are a certain number of existential possibilities open. Dasein knows this range unreflectively. You could eat rocks for lunch, or acorns, but it never occurs to you. Given your cultural background, given your mood, there are only certain possibilities that are part the room for maneuver.

So, part of Dasein as understanding is the prerational recognition of the range of possibilities available in the current situation (as opposed to logically available).

There are two types of background we could talk about here: local background and general background. There are the possibilities given in a particular situation, and the possibilities given by a culture.

Dasein can exist either authentically or inauthentically. These are two different modes of understanding. If Dasein is inauthentic, it means that it refuses to make choices. A person could try to embrace the world by seeing everything as something to be taken over and made part of a syncretic world-view. You could practice yoga, TM, Buddhism, and Christianity all at once, in the hopes that something will save you. Or, you could try to get in touch with your inner desires or self.

For Dasein to be authentic, it has to own up to its own possibilities, particularly the fact of its death. Authenticity does not imply self-awareness, but being absorbed in the world and disclosing the world at the same time.


Back to science. The ways of understanding that most philosophers connect to science (understanding as interpreting in the human sciences, and understanding as explaining in the natural sciences), are transformations of everyday coping.

Interpreting is a derivative, but not a deficient mode of understanding. It works out possibilities projected in understanding. "In interpretation, understanding does not become something different. It becomes itself."

When we are no longer able to simply cope, understanding develops in a new way. When things are not functioning smoothly, we have to pay attention to them and act deliberately. There is a further step, in which we simply manipulate a meaningless code. Example: If you are a native English speaker with a smattering of German, you understand English (because you use it transparently), you interpret German (you use it in a deliberate but context dependent way), and you decipher Japanese (because it is a meaningless code).

Any interpretation presupposes a shared understanding (see Dilthey). It has a three-fold structure:

a. All interpretation must start with a Vorhabe (a fore-having), a taken for granted background.

b. There needs to be some sense of how to approach the problem. (foresight)

c. The investigator already has expectations as to what will be discovered. (foreconception)

All this is possible, not as the discovery of facts in interpretation, nor as the result of arbitrary convention or decision, but because we dwell in the world.

This means that interpretation cannot be divorced from meaning. The scientist that says that there are no "talkative" people because everyone says about the same number of words in a day, has missed the point. It is the meaning of the words, their context, their appropriateness, that makes for talkativeness. Talkative people talk at inappropriate times.

Heidegger would hold the view that the human sciences and the natural sciences are distinctly different. Human sciences study that which has meaning as a matter of course. It makes explicit Dasein's way of coping. Natural sciences have as their objects things that are not determined by the fore-having. So, even though natural scientists also have a set of practices which direct investigation, that direction does not include the uncovering of Dasein.

3. Falling

This is a topic that also is relevant when we talk about temporality. Put most simply,falling is Dasein's being drawn away from its primordial sense of what it is. Dasein can be drawn away in three different ways: it can become lost, uprooted, or covered up. Furthermore, falling can also lead to turning away.

It is important to note that falling resembles original sin, but for Heidegger, we are not essentially inauthentic.

a. Being lost. We get absorbed in coping with things. This can be regarded as an existential. It is not inauthentic. We must be fascinated by our everyday world. The danger is in becoming so fascinated that we lose ourselves and our primordial relationship to the situation.

b. Uprooting. The second type of falling comes in the uprooting that is associated with language. It comes in "idle talk", Heidegger's discussion of how Dasein is essentially in untruth. There are three senses in which understanding is mediated by language, and is associated with falling:

1. Primordial: We actually use equipment. This is the basic sense of understanding.

2. Positive: In many cases we do not use the equipment -- jets, scalpels, etc. However, we do not have to use every piece in order to understand it at some level. We know what counts as normal use by a normal user. We can talk about it appropriately.

3. Privative: We can use language to cover up primordiality altogether. This is groundless (uprooted) talk. It is associated with gossip and passing on second-hand information. This closes off genuine and even positive understanding. Example: most armchair political talk. People give opinions, with no sense of how things are. It is driven by curiosity.

c. Covered Up. Dasein tends to "read back" on itself the being of the entities with which it deals. Like Marx's commodity fetishism. So, understanding is mis-taken. Heidegger calls Dasein a kind of nothingness in one place. Yet, it has to interpret itself. It may do that by making sense of everything including itself through availableness.

Uncovering is why this is hermeneutic phenomenology. If this was not needed, it would be descriptive phenomenology.

Now, all this one could call the structural aspect of fallenness. It is part of Dasein itself. However, Heidegger also talks of fallenness in a psychological sense. It is the fallenness of the one. Average intelligibility is out of touch with the primordial. So, Dasein doesn't really choose to fall away; it is socialized into this. We are always already fallen.

One of the ways this works is by the self falling in with the "Public". It is not the primordial social basis of being, but it is the common misinterpretation of Being. And, even when we are trying to live authentically, we make sense out of what we do by the public norms. So, it is always a struggle to resist falling.


<this part is from a paper by B. Janz>

It is difficult to discuss the topic of temporality in any of Heidegger's works without also discussing Being. Therefore, before we begin to examine Heidegger's comments on primordial time, we must briefly highlight some aspects of Being that are relevant to the topic.

a. The Deficiency of Traditional Conceptions of Time

Perhaps the most important thing to notice is that an improper view of time leads to an improper view of Being. As was noted in the last section, time is derivatively conceived as the flowing substance in which beings find themselves. Time "passes by" for Dasein, and Dasein is caught up in the flow of events.

Not only is this an incorrect way of viewing temporality, it also is an incorrect way of viewing Dasein, and in particular myself as an experiencing subject. The derivative notion of temporality implies that I am a substance that persists through time. In some way I am the one that holds together all my perceptions and experiences. "The 'I' seems to 'hold together' the totality of the structural whole." (BT 365)

Heidegger wants to deny that Dasein's "who" (the "I", or the Self) is the supporting ground of one's experiences. The "I" is not a substance or a subject; these are categories of the present-at-hand. Conceiving of the "I" as a substance tells us nothing about Being, and is merely an attempt to derive care from a theoretically generated Reality.

Equally deficient is Kant's attempt to conceive of the self as the transcendental unity of apperception. Heidegger praises Kant's treatment of the "I" as being one which avoids ontically reducing the "I" to a substance and takes seriously the "I" as the cogito; however, Kant's treatment fails, for it "characterizes not the Selfhood of the "I" qua Self, but the selfsameness and steadiness of something that is always present-at hand" (BT 367); in other words, Kant's thinking subject does no more than provide continuity through time. Kant's "I", imperceptible though it may be, is still a thinking subject, and as such is substantial.

In another work, Heidegger gives a fuller account of Kant's conception of the self. He describes Kant's formulation of the essential nature of egohood under three headings: the personalitas transcendentalis, the personalitas psychologica, and the personalitas moralis. The first, which is the relevant one to this discussion, describes the ego as cogito, or res cogitans. This res cogitans, the something that thinks, is "a subject of predicates and as such it is a subject for objects". The best way to describe the constitution of egohood is to say that it is self-conscious.

For Kant, since the transcendental unity of apperception cannot be known (Kant gives us a proof of the impossibility of this), Being itself cannot be known.

Heidegger is unwilling to accept this. He argues that the essential flaw in Kant's discussion of the ego is that there is discontinuity between Kant's theoretical ego (the transcendental unity of apperception) and the practical ego (the I which is perceivable). Kant does not provide the fundamental unity between the two. He has correctly observed that there the theoretical ego is the subject, and the practical ego is the substance, but then he has interpreted the ego as a subject. Heidegger wants to reject the ontical categories of both subject and substance, and consider the unity of the ego, which is the fundamental ontological question.

The basic mistake that Kant and others made was that they failed to consider time as part of Being. Formulating the ego as substance implies that the ego is the thing which is constant through changes in accident. Formulating the ego as subject implies that the ego is the thing to which all perceptions and experiences are predicated, and is therefore the thing that is constant through changes in situation. Both these formulations assume that Being is constant through the flow of time.

Heidegger's alternative to this is to say that Being is not independent from time, but is revealed by the horizon of time. Temporality is the meaning of Dasein, and is therefore the ground for understanding and interpreting Being. It is not something external to being, as is assumed in the characterizations of being as substance or subject. Understanding primordial time is the way to understand Dasein.

Primordial time will be discussed under three headings: futurity, ecstasis, and finitude. These three form the basis for Heidegger's alternative to the common notion of time, and through them Dasein is uncovered. Dasein's orientation to the future is called "anticipatory resoluteness"; an explication of this will form the bulk of the section on futurity. Second, Dasein stands "outside of itself", the discussion of which will be the theme of the section on ecstasis. Third, Dasein exists in anticipation of nullity, which is its authentic being-towards-death. This anticipation of nullity is the finitude which acknowledges Dasein's Being-guilty, or owing.

b. Futurity

Dasein's basic orientation is toward the future. "Temporality temporalizes itself as a future which makes present in the process of having been." (BT 401) Unlike the common or derivative conception of time, time does not flow like a river from the past through the present to the future. Heidegger insists thattime moves from the future through the past to the present.

The primacy of the future is disclosed for Dasein through anticipation. Anticipation is essentially Being-towards-death.

Anticipation is not merely an expecting of the not-yet, either the not-yet of unrealized possibilities in general or the not-yet of death in particular. Anticipation is the "coming-towards" of Dasein. The care structure of Dasein implies that Dasein is ahead of itself. This "ahead of itself" can be described initially as Dasein's grounding in fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception. (BT 191) In other words, the meaning of Dasein is uncovered through the futural structure of care. Because of this, only Dasein can be meaningful or meaningless. Present-at-hand entities are not understood as meaningful except in their relation to Dasein's own understanding. (BT 193)

The "fore-structure" of Dasein is understood in a circular manner; that is, we cannot hope to come up with a "definition" or description of Being before we interpret Dasein. The recognition that care is a "fore-structure", along with the recognition that understanding as such makes up a basic kind of Dasein's Being (BT 363) necessarily implies that Dasein is understood in a circular manner. This circle is not vicious, though. We have not assumed Being only to later derive Being in the form of Dasein. It is neither desirable nor possible for the self to stand outside of Being, in order to "objectively" interpret Being. If the self were to attempt such an objectification, it would fall into being present-at-hand, either as a substance or as a subject, and as such would not be able to interpret Being.

So, the care structure of Dasein dictates that Dasein is always ahead of itself, and must be understood circularly. This brings us to the other half of the description of the futurity of Dasein, that of resoluteness. Resoluteness is "letting oneself be called forth to one's ownmost Being-guilty." (BT 353) Put another way, it is "a way of reticently projecting oneself upon one's ownmost Being-guilty". (BT 353) Being-guilty (better translated as "owing") is the responsibility I have towards my decisions. I cannot abdicate my responsibility, because even refusing to choose is to make a choice. To be resolute, then, is to understand that I am owing. This understanding need not be authentic, however, for it is possible to understand oneself as owing, and still avoid that owing. Resoluteness on its own is neither primordial nor necessarily authentic. The guarantee of authenticity is brought by anticipation.

Anticipatory resoluteness is the understanding of one's owing towards one's ownmost possibilities, particularly that of death. Heidegger calls it "Being towards one's ownmost, distinctive potentiality-for-Being" (BT 372). It understands Dasein in its ownmost Being-guilty, or owing, which implies that Dasein embraces its thrownness not as a "not yet", but as an "as it already was".

Anticipatory resoluteness is by its very nature authentic, since Dasein is constantly recognizing its thrownness-projection unto death. It is by no means a method of escaping or overcoming death, but is rather the way for Dasein to affirm its existence:

The "coming towards" that anticipatory resoluteness makes possible is a direct result of the futural orientation of Dasein. "Anticipation discloses the priority of the future in that the future is the true basis for the possibility of Dasein's authentic self-approach as well as its inauthentic expectation of the not-yet-now. The future is not the endless passing by of objectified time, but the self-generating movement of Dasein's forestructure of understanding, always projecting ahead-of-itself into novel and creative possibilities of knowledge, activity, and expression."(1)

It is obvious, then, that a major component of time for Dasein is its orientation to the future. Futurity makes possible all of temporal existence, since it is the basis of the care structure (BT 360, 370-71). It is the basis for the possibility of authenticity, as Dasein comes to accept its thrownness (BT 372-374). As well, it is the basis for inauthenticity, when the future is falsely objectified. Even everydayness would not be possible without primordial temporality (BT 380-382).

c. Ecstases

The second major topic which will help to make clear Heidegger's doctrine of temporality is the notion of "ecstases". The "phenomenon of the future, the character of having been, and the Present" is the ecstases of temporality. (BT 377) This implies that the three modalities of time are neither "ontically connected together, nor collapsed into a monotonous or uniform identity". Temporality is the primordial "outside-of-itself" in and for itself. (BT 377)

Simply put, the notion of ecstasis indicates that the three modalities of time are not just a series of points on a time continuum. Future, past, and present are rather more like horizons which overlap and intertwine with each other. Heidegger often talks about the "unity of the ecstasis", by which he means to indicate this overlap of horizons (BT 377). Dasein is thus able to stand "outside of itself". Heidegger speaks of Dasein's existence in the modalities of time not as "I was then", "I am now", and "I will be then", but rather "I am coming toward myself" (future), "I am going back to" (past), and "I am staying with, or being with" (present). Ecstasis is merely temporality temporalizing itself.

This feature of Dasein, that it stands outside of itself, is the reason that temporality and Dasein are necessarily linked. Temporality, in the character of ecstasis, is the condition of the constitution of Dasein's being. Heidegger points out that the etymology of "ecstasis" (ekstatikon) shows the meaning to be "stepping-outside-self", and is affiliated with the term "existence". Therefore, the existence of Dasein depends on the ecstatic nature of primordial temporality.

Thus, Dasein does not simply exist in time, but is "enpresented". Primordial temporality, as well, is not first something in itself, and then "later" something outside of itself. It is, in fact, nothing except the "outside of itself". Thus, the modality of time which we know as "past", for example, does not temporalize itself as an "entity" which is related to the other modalities only because they share the same continuum. The past is temporalized as a unity with the present and the future, so that it is not possible to consider Dasein in the past without considering the future first and the present afterwards.

Because of the ecstatic nature of temporality, Dasein is not left stranded as a present subject in an infinite continuum. The derivative conception of time allows (in fact, necessitates) that Dasein consider its future and past as that belonging to another subject. One may say "That was me that did thus-and-so back then", or "I intend to do this in the future", but the "I" implicit in both these statements is not Dasein, but some idealized caricature of Dasein. The "I" of the past or future is construed as a present-at-hand entity, to which the I of the present attaches experiences or attributes. There is no guarantee in the derivative formulation of time, however, that the I of the past or future is the same I as is presently contemplating the past or future. Only through primordial temporality, which bears the ecstatic nature, can Dasein view itself as a temporal-historical unity and individualized continuity of finite transcendence, rather than as a collection of isolated yet serially-connected time units.

But it is not only the past and future that are affected by the ecstatic nature of temporality. Dasein's present, as a being in the world, cannot be described crudely and simply as an entity acting on other entities in the context of a world. Dasein is not one present-at-hand entity interacting with other present-at-hand entities. Dasein is not simply "now"; rather, it is "enpresented". As present, Dasein is "carried away" to some other being or beings. This carrying away Heidegger calls the "moment of vision".

The moment of vision allows the possibility of the "now" of derivative time, rather than the other way around. The moment of vision allows us to encounter for the first time that which is ready-to-hand or present-at-hand. It is not, however, a feature of derivative time, but is temporalized as the authentic present, and as such is the ecstasis of primordial temporality.

The fact that the moment of vision is the authentic present should indicate that it is connected with a topic we have already discussed, that of anticipatory resoluteness. "Being carried away", which is the basic nature of the moment of vision, is just another way of expressing the "coming towards" which characterizes Dasein's care structure. The inauthentic present, described as merely "making present", does not have a futural orientation at all. It closes itself off from its ownmost potentiality-for-Being. "The moment of vision, however", Heidegger says, "temporalizes itself in quite the opposite manner--in terms of the authentic future."

A feature of Dasein which has an important bearing on temporality is the phenomenon of "falling". Fallenness into the world means that Dasein is absorbed into the Being-with-one-another (think of the person in the earlier characterization of time, floating down the river with the inanimate objects at hand). It means that Dasein is alongside the 'world' of its concern.

We do not exist as abstract entities, but always within a world. Our tendency is to "solidify" ourselves into a subject. That solidification is fallenness.

Authentic existence is not a lack of fallenness; it is "only a modified way in which such everydayness is seized upon." (BT 224) This is important to realize, for it is the connection which brings us back to ecstasis, and therefore to temporality. Dasein's falling is a possibility that is neither accidental nor inevitable, but it is an essential ever-present possibility which is never fully overcome. It is not possible to permenantly overcome Dasein's falling, but it is possible to existenzielly modify it for the moment. That moment we call the "moment of vision". Heidegger is insistent that falling not be construed as a lesser moral state (thus, the modification is not relief of an oppressed worldly condition), but one cannot help but wonder if he is not bound to make some sort of value judgment at this point.

Put another way: we have the tendency to think of ourselves as substantial beings. Time is outside of us, and we float on this river of time like logs, which have their own concrete identity. This tendency to think of ourselves as discrete subjects or substantial beings is fallenness. We have to do this, because at any particular time we think of ourselves as having some human nature. This in itself is not a problem. However, the problem comes when we think that we really are that substantial self. Really, we are constituted in time. The moment of vision is the moment in which we catch a glimpse of ourselves not as beings with an essence, but as temporalized beings that have future projects, that have a past which requires interpretation, and that have a present in which we act.

d. Finitude

We must move on to the final feature of primordial temporality, that of finitude. Dasein must come to terms with at least one feature of its existence, and that is this: Dasein is finite. Dasein, at some point, will no longer be. The anticipation which has been connected with temporality from the beginning of this section is an anticipation of nullity.

The earlier section, on the nature of derivative time, portrayed a person as ignoring the possibility of death. Dasein in its authentic state cannot do that. There are several reasons why temporality must temporalize itself as infinite:

1. If Dasein were infinite, then its orientation toward the future would be different. Dasein would no longer be forced to face its Being-guilty, or owing, for its decisions would not matter. Even though Dasein is faced with infinite possibilities, the fact of finitude means that it must choose.

2. If Dasein were not finite, it would not have to question the nature or meaning of its Being. "It follows that human reason is not finite only because it propounds these [first] three questions", Heidegger writes about Kant's three primary philosophical inquiries, "but, on the contrary, it propounds these three questions because it is finite and so radically finite, indeed, that in its rationality this finitude itself is at stake."

Example: the finiteness of the papers I assign force people into making decisions about what is important and what is not. It forces people to question the material, instead of just taking it in and writing it down. The limitation forces consciousness.

3. Without the finitude of primordial temporality, "derived" time could not even temporalize itself as infinite. (BT 379)

4. Temporality must be primordially finite (through the mechanism of "repeating") if Dasein is to have an authentic history:

"Authentic Being-towards-death--that is to say, the finitude of temporality--is the hidden basis of Dasein's historicality. Dasein does not first become historical in repetition; but because it is historical as temporal, it can take itself over in its history by repeating." (BT 438)

Heidegger does not mean by finitude the finitude of substances. Each substance has its limit, and cannot encroach on the area delineated by another substance. But, as we have seen, Heidegger does not want to talk about substances, since they are concepts of the ontical. This conception of finitude assumes an "ancient-medieval ontology" which regards persons as finite substances. Put another way, Heidegger is not concerned about finitude in the spatial sense, but in the temporal sense.

Finitude is basically Dasein's anticipation of and powerlessness before its eventual nullity. Dasein's null ground is a basic feature of the care structure: "Care itself, in its very essence, is permeated with nullity through and through." (BT 331) The futural nature of Dasein is thus inextricably bound up in the anticipation of nullity, as was noted earlier when we were discussing futurity. But more than the close link between futurity and finitude, the nullity that is anticipated is not simply an eventual likelihood which has no influence on the rest of Dasein's existence. Dasein is shot through with nullity, and cannot exist authentically (or even inauthentically) without taking into account this pervasive fact. Nullity is not simply the realization of one's limitations, nor is it something that is a contingent feature of Dasein which could be overcome with the advance of science. It is not something which can be circumvented by taking a "God's eye view" of Dasein.

Dasein is thrown into its possibilities, to which it also projects itself. Part of the meaning of Dasein's thrownness is the "not" which comes about because Dasein always lags behind its possibilities. This thrownness is the basis for Dasein's existence, and as such Dasein cannot exist before its basis, but only from the basis and as the basis. The nullity which is inherent in Dasein's thrownness makes possible the freedom Dasein has for its existentiell possibilities. Along with freedom, though, comes both the possibility of factical guilt and primordial "Being-guilty", or owing, which we outlined earlier. Dasein is thrown/projected forward, and is called back by conscience to its owing from being lost in the they-self. (BT 333) Thus, nullity is essential to the care structure (which is, after all, just the name Heidegger gives to Being-guilty, or owing; BT 332-333), for nullity is tied to Being-guilty due to Dasein's thrownness into its ownmost possibilities.

Death is the most overwhelming instance of finitude. The they-self, however, always tries to avoid the significance of this fact. Like the speaker in the earlier characterization of derivative temporality, Dasein inauthentically believes that "its not over till its over." The only reason Dasein knows that the end will come is due to empirical observation: it has come for everyone else. Death is not acknowledged as Dasein's ownmost possibility, as something which is uniquely mine. The earlier speaker, however, had not come to terms with his death. Any thought of death was to him dwellingat his end, rather than toward his end.

Heidegger calls the feeling which the speaker (who is falling into the theyself) has upon being confronted with the null ground of his being "anxiety". Anxiety is the feeling of not being at home. Anxiety reveals to the one caught up in an inauthentic way of being, that his existence is shot through with nullity. The nothingness does not come from an absence of entities (indeed, it may come as a result of an overabundance of entities, as in the person who runs from the thought of nullity by immersing himself in interesting pursuits or surrounding herself with expensive objects that cushion the pain), but from the eventual realization of the finitude which comes from Dasein's thrown/projection. Anxiety discloses Dasein's freedom, but it also discloses Dasein's Being-guilty, or owing.

We can see, then, that finitude is an integral part of Dasein's being. It is tied up with futurity and ecstasis, and together these three give an outline of Heidegger's connection between temporality and Dasein.

1. Heine, Existential and Ontological Dimensions of Time in Heidegger and Dogen (Albany, New York: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1985), p. 114.